What’s Going On in This Orchard?
This sermon was presented at Resurrection on March 11, 2012, the Third Sunday in Lent, by Pastor Jim Kniseley. The sermon is based on Exodus 20:1-11 and the stewardship theme of “intentional faith development.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
The overall theme of Lent this year in our congregation is “Cultivating Fruitfulness”. What we’re trying to understand is what God expects of us, the people of God. We’ve heard about Radical Hospitality and Passionate Worship. Today we emphasize Intentional Faith Development.
Robert Schnase, the author of our Lenten resources, says that Intentional Faith Development refers to all the ministries that help us grow outside of weekly worship. Things like Sunday School and small groups and retreats, definite times when we learn in the community of other Christians. It is where we mature in the faith. Intentional refers to deliberate effort, purposeful action, and high priority.
Would you agree that time, effort, and determination are really important for achieving anything worthwhile in this life? Some of us spent years in school preparing for our life’s work. Many of us here have worked for years in our chosen professions, trying to be the best we can be. Parents give untold years in raising children to adulthood. There are some here who are or have been very good athletes. Even with natural abilities, you have to work out and practice in order to get really good.
I dare say to you today, the same is true of our Christian faith. Mature faith, grace-filled faith, fruitful faith comes as the result of deliberate effort, purpose action, and high priority. Let me say this in a bolder way: God expects us to participate in the faith community more than just at worship on Sunday morning. To limit yourself to only worship is to risk hurting yourself and displeasing God. Why would I say that? Scripture has lots of examples of half-hearted participation, of just getting by with the least effort possible. St. Paul gives us the image of a fruit tree and says the expectation of Jesus for the Church is that we will bear fruit. What are the fruits of this tree, these spiritual gifts from God that must be cultivated and nurtured? They are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Where do we learn about these gifts, and practice these gifts, and use these gifts? It is in the community of faith, in places like Bible Study and small groups and Sunday School and Confirmation and on retreats. I have a question for you right now: From whom are you learning these gifts now in your life? And, to whom are you teaching these gifts?
Today’s first lesson contains the Ten Commandments of God. What possibly could be a tie between the Ten Commandments and Intentional Faith Development? Notice that we have 17 verses and the first 3 commandments take up 11 verses alone. These first 3 commandments have explanations while the last 7 have no explanations. This indicates to me that these first 3 commandments are really important.
The first 3 have to do with our relationship with God. The last 7 have to do with our relationships with each other. As we emphasize in Confirmation Class, the first commandment is the key commandment and is the reason why we need to obey the other 9 commandments: I am the Lord your God. In other words, I made the whole universe and I made you. The second commandment says you shall have no other gods before me. Then we have an explanation: You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the father to the third and fourth generation, of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love and keep my commandments.
Luther’s Small Catechism is invaluable for helping us understand this commandment. He writes that anything in this life can be treated as a god. Whenever we give equal or greater allegiance to anything but the Lord God, we are worshipping an idol. So today what idols are out there that tempt members of this congregation? What are those things that keep you from full participation at worship and intentional faith development? Could it be your work, your money, your social standing in the community, your family, your looks, your vacations, your toys?
That part of the Bible explanation for the second commandment that talks about God’s punishment upon the children for the sin of the father might be hard to understand. Is that the promise of a loving God? I think here is a better interpretation: fathers and mothers who do not raise their children with the teaching and example of faith are setting a path for future generations that will be hurtful. It might take several generations to recover from this not worshipping, not learning Christian values, and not practicing the fruits of the Spirit…
Now we come to the Third Commandment of God: Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. How hard it is in our generation to do justice and show reverence to the keeping of this commandment. I heard it again just recently from a member of this congregation: Pastor Jim, Sunday is the only day we have off and it is a family day. Don’t expect to see us at church regularly.
What did we learn in Luther’s Small Catechism? That God gives us everything we have, including 7 days of the week. God simply asks that we set aside one day for a Sabbath, that is a day of rest. Don’t do your usual routine of work, but purposefully, intentionally make that a day to regroup and refresh. During that day take time to thank the Lord, to worship and study. It is what God commands and it is what we need.
Let me end this sermon with a simple prayer: Help us, Lord, to delight in learning your Word so that like a tree planted by a stream of water, our lives may bear your fruit. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Did you ever see a tree like this before? It has lots of fruit on it, different fruit all on the same tree! We know that fruit doesn’t grow like this, but this tree here will help us understand something from the Bible. St. Paul says that the Church is like a tree that bears fruit. God wants the Church, us, to have wonderful, delicious, ripe fruit for the sake of the world.
What are the fruits of the Spirit that grow on this tree? They are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Where can you learn about these? In Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, and someday for you in Confirmation Class and High School Sunday School and in Youth Group and when you are an adult in Bible Study and small group studies.
Let’s pray: Dear Lord, thank you for the fruits of the Spirit. Please help us grow as your children. Bless our whole church. May everyone know and practice your gifts. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Robert Schnase is a United Methodist Bishop and the one who authored